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5 Unique Places to Explore in Santa Fe

Santa Fe, New Mexico, has a unique stature as the oldest capital in the U.S. Since the early 1600s, the city has evolved into a rich blend of Indigenous, European, and American cultures.

Thanks to its incredible heritage, it’s also one of the most distinctive cities in the U.S. Where else can you admire ancient history just minutes away from fine dining and retail?

Today we’ll cover some of our favorite spots that make this town so special.

Let’s explore!

A dance troupe performs a Mexican folk dance on the historic Santa Fe, NM Plaza during a Mexican Independence Day celebration.
Santa Fe was part of the Mexican Republic for 25 years and has many citizens of Mexican heritage

About Santa Fe

Santa Fe’s nickname is “The City Different.” It’s a fitting term considering their diverse heritage and rich mixture of cultural influences. Featuring the benefits of a large city and the serenity of a mountain town, it draws thousands of visitors.

The town is home to several art and history museums, monuments, and historic sites. You can hike miles of trails, exploring cave drawings and indigenous dwellings. Outdoor activities are popular year-round, as are several local spas and retreats.

You can also find a lively art and culture scene here. They offer live music, film screenings, and gallery openings almost any night of the week. Delicious options like BBQ, Mexican food, and artisan chocolate can be found in dozens of local restaurants.

No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll probably find it. Let’s look at five of the most unique places you should explore during your stay in Santa Fe.

#1 Santa Fe Plaza

Just like the city it’s named for, Santa Fe Plaza has been around for over 400 years. The area was once used for trading and exchange, but these days it’s a national historic landmark and public park. Spanish-Pueblo-style buildings surround the square, giving it an old-world feel. The town now hosts cultural celebrations and heritage events in this beautiful setting. 

You can catch live music, parades, and dances. It’s the annual site of La Fiesta de Santa Fe, which has been running for over 300 years. We love to shop from local artisan vendors during Indigenous and Spanish market days. You’ll also find public transportation and tons of other must-see activities nearby.

#2 Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf began in 2008 as a Santa Fe-based artist collective with a unique vibe. The organization thrived on collaboration and exchanging ideas to create large-scale installations. By 2016, the group completed its first permanent project, The House of Eternal Return. Today the project is known globally as a one-of-a-kind interactive art installation. It offers visitors a chance to immerse themselves in dreamlike rooms and tableaus.

The House of Eternal Return is part jungle gym, museum, and mystery house. You won’t find a right or wrong way to explore. Go at your own pace, use your curiosity, and see where your trip takes you. They have secret passages, doors to new galaxies, and mysteries around every corner. Meow Wolf’s incredible gallery is family-friendly and open to visitors of all ages.

Need a place to stay? Here are 7 Magical Santa Fe RV Parks & Campgrounds.

#3 Santa Fe School of Cooking

Feel like adding some culinary creativity to your trip? Check out the Santa Fe School of Cooking, founded in 1989. You’ll find cooking classes and a market stocked with local ingredients and kitchen tools. You can even sign up for a restaurant tour of the city!

Classes include topics like traditional New Mexican cooking, tacos, Southwestern sauces, green chile workshops, and Indigenous cooking. They also host wine and appetizer tastings. And if you time your visit right, you can check out Dave’s Jazz Bistro. A few nights every year, the school becomes a temporary jazz club featuring live performances, special menus, and other surprises!

#4 Kakawa Chocolate House

Do you love chocolate? If so, you should put Kakawa Chocolate House on your Santa Fe itinerary. This artisan shop specializes in drinkable cocoa elixirs. These delicious beverages originated in Mayan and Aztec cultures before becoming famous worldwide.

Although Kakawa focuses on drinks, the shop offers tons of sweet treats. You’ll find truffles, bars, and other tasty confections. Their flavors range from standard bittersweet choices to adventurous combos like cherry chili and goat cheese with sage. The best part is that all their products are sourced from organic and fair-trade producers.

Native American pottery lined up for sale at an outdoor market in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
You’ll find gorgeous pottery and other art at several Santa Fe markets

#5 The Railyard District

Your trip to wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Railyard District. Situated near the historic Santa Fe Depot, this area buzzes with activity. Between community gardens, a park, and outdoor performance spaces, there’s always something going on here.

In addition to outdoor activities, the Railyard District houses several farmer’s markets and vendor fairs. Get fresh produce at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, or check out the Railyard Artisan Market for local crafts. You can also visit El Museo Mercado to admire and purchase art by New Mexican fine artists.

The Railyard District provides easy access to well-known restaurants and bars. You can access it by train to get a real feel for the area. Grab a bite before catching a show at the Jean Cocteau Cinema, an art-house theater and performance space.

If you decide Santa Fe isn’t for you: Avoid Santa Fe and Visit These Nearby Towns Instead.

Best Places to Eat in Santa Fe

You’ll work up an appetite after a full day of exploring. Fortunately, Santa Fe’s food scene is just as unique and full of possibilities as the city itself.

Check out these eateries once you’re ready for a great meal.

Radish and Rye

Radish and Rye is the perfect spot for an elegant, upscale dinner. Their farm-inspired cuisine has earned praise from Conde Nast Traveler, Food & Wine, and New Mexico Magazine.

Start with fried green tomatoes or saltine-crusted shrimp before enjoying entrees like locally sourced bison and fried quail. The restaurant also has an extensive cocktail list, as well as a superb whiskey list.

Plaza Cafe

Plaza Cafe, located right next to Santa Fe Plaza, is one of the city’s oldest restaurants. This funky diner sports retro decor and some of your favorite diner foods, along with New Mexican cuisine.

Grab a hearty breakfast burrito or some pancakes, or settle in for a BLT or a burger. You can also get a bowl of authentic New Mexico chili.

The Shed

The Shed occupies a building near Santa Fe Plaza that dates back to 1692. But their food is far from outdated. Their most famous dishes include red chile enchiladas and other New Mexican staples.

Try a stuffed pepper Poblano Plate or explore the many taco options on their menu. But don’t forget to order one of the best margaritas in the city while you’re there!

Explore more with Fodor’s InFocus Santa Fe.

Get Weird in The City Different

Santa Fe is best explored at your own unique pace. There’s so much history and so much to see in The City Different. But sometimes, the best way to get to know a place is to explore its most unusual offerings.

Whether you’re a foodie, an art lover, or a history buff, this beautiful destination has something for you to enjoy. Even if you visit a handful of the places on this list, you’ll feel right at home.

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